Natural disasters had long stymied its development, starting with a disastrous 1927 flood of the Mississippi. And in September 1965, the area struggled to recover from Hurricane Betsy, which inundated 80% of the neighborhood.
In the wake of Betsy, the federal government established more subsidized housing and programs for the poor, but the neighborhood continued to struggle. When Katrina struck, more than 36% of its residents were living below the poverty line. Drugs and violent crime flourished.
And yet the months before Katrina were a period of great hope. The nearby Desire housing project -- long run-down and plagued by violence -- had been mostly razed, replaced with more attractive buildings and townhouses. Mayor C. Ray Nagin had proposed tearing down other blighted parts of the area as part of a citywide revitalization project.
The city's leading preservation group, the Preservation Resource Center, had even turned its attention to the Lower 9th, renovating old homes and building new ones.
The area has long been a hotbed of political activism, and residents jumped into the planning process with relish, said City Councilwoman Cynthia Willard-Lewis, who represents the neighborhood.
"There was great hope in the Lower 9th Ward," Willard-Lewis said.
In Katrina's aftermath, a number of observers have wondered if the area should be rebuilt at all.
Willard-Lewis bristles at the suggestion.
The people have left, she said, but the pride in the neighborhood never left. She bolstered the point with a report she received from rescue workers:
Amid the violence and chaos and looting that followed Katrina, it appeared that no one had laid a hand on Fats Domino's place.